Tag Archives: Revelation

Christianity’s Greatest Advance and Its Contemporary Consequences (Churches 4)

Seventh-day Adventists and many others in the course of Christian history have applied the message to Philadelphia to the great revival of Protestantism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This great revival motivated the church to carry the gospel to the whole world. It resulted in the greatest expansion of Christianity throughout the world since the time of Pentecost.

But there was a dark side to this expansion which has become evident today. Missionary endeavors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries too often rode on the back of the West’s colonial expansion in the economic and political realms. The wealth and educational advantages that came along with co-operation with the colonial powers created a major temporal advantage for Christian mission. Resisting Christian evangelism under those circumstances was like trying to swim against the tide.

As a result, many non-Christian peoples today see Christianity as a self-serving tool of Western imperialism rather than a humble, self-effacing movement that seeks to improve the lives of others. This attitude is increasingly found even in the more “Christian” parts of the world. Christianity as a whole is on the defensive today. In this context manipulation or political involvement of any kind on the part of the church plays into the negative stereotypes that have arisen. The gospel message can no longer rely on political, economic or social support for its success. It has been thrown back to Jesus’ original plan of “power made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

John’s Own Outline of Revelation (Vision 4)

The author of Revelation often embeds clues about the organization and key ideas of the book in the transition texts. One of those transition texts is Revelation 1:19. In this text he lays out the plan of the whole book. It begins, “Write, therefore, what you have seen” (my translation). This sentence parallels verse 11, “Write what you see.” Verse 11 is present tense and verse 19 is past tense (Greek aorist indicative). This means the entire vision of Revelation was seen by John between the command in verse 11 and the command in verse 19. Having seen the vision, he is told to write it out and begins that process in verse 19.

What has John seen? Two things: “The things which are” and “the things which are about to happen after these things” (Rev. 1:19, my translation). So the book of Revelation will include both things current at the time of the seven churches, and things which were yet to come from their perspective. One part of John’s vision focuses particularly on the time in which John lived, and one part focuses on events that will follow after John’s time. For our purposes, the key question is, How do we know when John is addressing his time and place and when he is addressing the things which would happen after his day?

In Revelation 4:1 (my translation) Jesus says to John, “Come up here, and I will show you the things which these things must happen after.” This is a nearly exact parallel to Revelation 1:19. So beginning with Revelation 4:1, the rest of Revelation focuses primarily on John’s future. While there are flashbacks to the cross (Rev 5:6; 12:11), to the enthronement of Jesus (Rev. 5:6-14), and even events before creation (Rev. 12:4), the primary focus from chapter four to the end of the book on is events future from John’s day.

What, then, are “the things which are” in Revelation 1:19? Evidently, everything between 1:19 and 4:1, namely the messages to the seven churches. While the seven messages have powerful implications for the whole Christian era, their primary focus is on the situation of those seven churches, and on the messages that Jesus brings to them. Unlike most of the book of Revelation, the messages to the seven churches are not an apocalyptic prediction of future events, they read more like the letters of Paul or Matthew 24. As such they are applicable directly to the original readers and also to readers throughout the Christian era (see Rev. 1:3). As such, they can also be applied to the various eras of church history, with which they fit fairly well.

Careful attention to Revelation 1:19 shows how key texts of Revelation can help readers see the structure in John’s mind and in the mind of the One who gave him the vision.

Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are (Vision 3)

Jesus appears on the scene of Revelation in spectacular fashion (Rev. 1:12-20). The same Jesus is in close relationship with the seven churches (1:20). He knows each of them intimately (Rev. 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). And He introduces Himself to each church with one, two or three characteristics from the earlier vision.

The message to Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), for example, describes Jesus as the one who holds the seven stars in His hand (Rev. 1:20) and walks among the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13). In the message to Smyrna (2:8), Jesus is the first and the last, the one who died came to life (1:17-18). In the letter to Pergamum, He approaches with a sharp, two-edged sword (1:16). So it goes throughout the seven church letters.

Here’s the interesting thing. Jesus presents Himself differently to each of the seven churches. No two churches get the same picture of Jesus. Each church gets only a portion of the many characteristics in chapter one. He knows each church intimately and on that basis meets each church where they are. No individual church, therefore, has the full picture of Jesus. He is able to adapt to each church’s particular needs and circumstances. And if no church and no Christian has the full picture of Jesus, then we all have reason to be humble. We are all learners. And we all have something to teach each other.

There is a corollary to this observation. If one were to ask which of the seven churches has the RIGHT picture of Jesus, how would you answer? It is a trick question. It is Jesus who presents Himself to each church. Each church has a true or right picture of Jesus. That means that there is more than one RIGHT way to think. Each of the churches knows something right about Jesus, but they all need each other in order to have the full picture.

This doesn’t mean that all pictures of Jesus or God are right. There is such a thing as a wrong picture, a deceptive picture of Jesus. But just because two people disagree about Jesus doesn’t by itself prove that one or both of them are wrong. They may simply be seeing from a different angle or their perception of truth is limited by their training and experience up to that point.

Many church fights are grounded in the perception that there is only ONE right way to think. If that is true and I am right, then you must be wrong! But when godly people study the Word and listen to the Spirit, they come to a perception of the truth. It may be limited and expressed in their own language and culture, but it expresses a facet of truth that others need to hear. Witnessing should not be limited to outsiders, we all need to hear one another to learn and to grow. When you realize that there is more than one right way to think, it makes you more open to the work of the Spirit in others.

The Lord’s Day (Vision 2)

The introductory vision of Revelation (Rev. 1:12-18) centers on a glorious picture of Jesus. He is the Son of Man (1:13), the one who died and is alive forevermore (1:18). Based on Daniel 10:5-6 and a number of other OT texts, this vision portrays the kind of Jesus who was seen only at the Transfiguration during His earthly ministry. The characteristics of Jesus in the vision are repeated throughout the seven messages of chapters two and three. The vision is like the stage backdrop to the first act of a play. The envelope of verses 11 and 19 make it clear that John received the vision of the entire book between those two verses.

In addition to the vision of Jesus (1:12-18) this section of Revelation also addresses the location and time when John received the vision (1:9-11). John received the vision on “the Lord’s Day.” That phrase has received a lot of attention from scholars of Revelation.

The most popular view of Revelation 1:10 among commentators is that the “Lord’s Day” of Revelation 1:10 is Sunday, the first day of the week. The strength of this view is that later Church Fathers used the phrase with reference to Sunday, and the Latin equivalent, dominus dies, became one of the names for Sunday in the Latin Church. But all clear references to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” are much later than Revelation and thus cannot serve as evidence for the meaning when John wrote.

The best explanation for the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10 is that John was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath. While the exact phrase “the Lord’s Day” (kuriakê hemêra) is never used elsewhere in the New Testament or in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, many strong equivalents refer to the seventh-day Sabbath. The seventh day is “a Sabbath to the Lord (kuriô) your God” (Exod 20:10; Deut 5:14). “The Lord” (kurios) often refers to the seventh day as “my Sabbath” (ta sabbata mou– Exod 31:12-13; Lev 19:3, 30; 26:2; Isa 56:4-6; Ezek 20:12-13, 16, 20-21, 24; 22:3-8; 23:36-38; 44:12-24). In the Hebrew of Isaiah 58:13 Yahweh calls the Sabbath “My holy day.” And finally, all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5) quote Jesus as saying “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (kurios tou sabbatou). It would be strange, therefore, if John used the phrase “the Lord’s Day” for any other day of the week than the one we call Saturday.

A Vision of Christ (Vision 1)

Introduction: Revelation 1:9-20 provides the backdrop for the messages to the seven churches in chapters two and three. Aspects of the glorious vision of Christ provide the unique setting for each of the seven messages. Jesus knows each of the seven churches and meets them where they are.

At least three important themes emerge from a careful look at this opening vision:
1. The Identity of the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10. The Sabbath is the most likely option for John’s understanding of the Lord’s Day.
2. Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are. Jesus approaches each of the seven churches with different characteristics drawn from the introductory vision (Rev. 1:9-20).
3. John’s Basic Outline of Revelation (based on Revelation 1:19). In Revelation 1:19 John summarizes the whole vision as concerning the things which are and the things which will happen after these things. Revelation 4:1 shows that much of Revelation focuses on John’s future.

Looking at the vision as a whole, it is fascinating to see that Jesus is presented in 1:12-16 in a rather frightening manner. John reacts to this presentation in a predictable way, falling down in front of Jesus like a dead man (1:17). But Jesus offers a gracious and comforting response to John in 1:17-18. This vision fits a biblical pattern in which God sometimes “raises His voice” to get our attention or to impress on us His power and glorious being. But after we are suitably humbled by the presence of a powerful God, He can approach us in the way He truly wishes, with gracious kindness. God is infinitely powerful, but He is also infinitely gracious. That means He is powerful enough to accomplish His purpose and meet our need, yet we don’t need to be afraid of Him. He longs for us to receive Him as a friend (John 15:13).

Applying the Lessons of the Prologue (Prologue 1:8)

For Seventh-day Adventists, the Prologue of Revelation brings out two things that might seem in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist (apocalyptic sequences of history) reading of Revelation. What value does the unique SDA approach offer in today’s world? How do you keep a balance between articulating the historical details of the SDA reading of Revelation and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope?

What is the value of an SDA approach to Revelation today? Among other things, I would suggest the following. 1) The SDA view answers the three great philosophical questions of human existence. These are, in principle: Who am I? Where did I come from? and Where am I going? Who am I? A being made in the image of a loving, gracious and self-sacrificing God who prizes freedom so much that He has even given us power to create little people like ourselves. Where did I come from? I am not here as a result of random chance, but I am the result of a loving, creative purpose. That means that my life has meaning and purpose even when it is not appreciated by those around. It means that my life has infinite value in the eyes of the most important Person in the universe. Where am I going? Life in this universe will not end with a bang or a whimper. It will not end in primeval silence. It will end in an eternity of meaning, purpose and ever-deepening relationships.

2) The SDA approach to Revelation helps us see the hand of God in history. In our daily experience, it is often difficult to know what God wants us to do and just where God is leading in the major events around us. Apocalyptic prophecies like Daniel 2 and Revelation 12 affirm the giant principles upon which God bases His interaction with this world and the universe. As we see prophecy’s interpretation of the past, we have a clearer picture of what God is doing today and what He is likely to do in the future.

3) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history. Events in the world seem increasingly out of control, but apocalyptic prophecy assures us that this is nothing out of the ordinary and God is well able to manage today’s governmental chaos just as he managed the many “beasts” of the past.

4) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence that since God has been active in creation and throughout history, the hope that we have for the future is also real. Things will not always be as they are now. God is still working toward the ultimate fulfillment of His purpose and ours. We may not know just when the climax of history will occur, but we know that the outcome is assured and God’s faithful people, both living and dead, will participate in that outcome.

The Return of Jesus in the Prologue (Prologue 1:7)

The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Revelation Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).

The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zechariah 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Revelation it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zechariah it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Revelation it is whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.

In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.

The Threeness of God in the Prologue (Prologue 1:6)

Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what I call a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come; perhaps a fourth trinity in the larger scheme of the passage), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”

Next comes a trinity of historical realities that qualify Jesus for the role He plays in Revelation. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr—Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and has already joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.

The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. These actions are all directed toward His people. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.

This “triple trinity” underlines the central theme of the book of Revelation. It is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is THE ONE who died, rose, and now rules the heavens and the earth. These together are the decisive events that change everything in the cosmic conflict. The last trinity summarizes the things that Jesus does particularly for the human race.

The Book of Revelation Concerns Future Events (Prologue 1:5)

Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by soon? Surely the 2,000 years that have passed since this was written do not fit with soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).

But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon. In the Adventist perspective, the dead do not know anything, nor do they experience the passing of time. So for those who die, the next thing they experience is the Second Coming. In other words, we don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in our experience He will come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return. So even in John’s day, the second coming of Jesus is portrayed as soon.

This is such a challenging concept that I will repeat myself at the risk of redundancy, just to make the point. The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. The purpose of prophecy is to motivate readers to the decisions and actions that are needed to accomplish both their salvation and God’s larger purposes (the Great Controversy). The book of Revelation portrays the End as soon, not because it will be soon from a human perspective, but because it must always be soon in the experience of each generation or the prophecies will not have the impact they need to have in our lives.

Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Prologue 1:4)

The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus (Rev 1:1-3). He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). The chain of revelation moves from “God” to Jesus and from Jesus to John through an angel and from John to the readers and hearers of his book (1:1-3). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.

This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.

So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). Through these He loves us, has freed us from our sins by His blood (1:5b), and made us a kingdom and priests (1:6a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).